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Environmental Advocates Push For Mandatory Testing For Lead In Water At NC Schools

A water fountain inside a hallway at a school at Chapel Hill Carrboro Public Schools.
Brian Batista
A water fountain inside a hallway at a school at Chapel Hill Carrboro Public Schools.

Even low levels of lead can cause harm to children, but 22 states, including North Carolina, don’t require schools and day cares to test the levels of lead in children’s drinking water.

Environmental advocates in North Carolina are lobbying for state regulations that would mandate lead testing and remediation in schools and childcare facilities throughout the state.

Krista Early, with Environment North Carolina, said it's not clear how many schools may have pipes or fittings that can leach lead into drinking water.

“We just don’t really know how big this problem is in North Carolina,” she said.

She noted Charlotte-Mecklenburg and Guilford County schools are the only districts in the state that have voluntarily tested for lead.

“They found pretty serious levels of lead in their water at their schools,” said Early. “It's kind of unreasonable to assume that this problem doesn't also exist in other schools in North Carolina.”

Without state-mandated testing, Early said the issue of lead in water may not be on the radar of school officials at the local level.

“If they don’t see it, then they don’t know it’s a problem, and they won’t know it’s a problem unless they test for it," she said.

Tracking down the source of lead contamination can be a complex process, and replacing infrastructure can be expensive, but Early said schools can take immediate action if testing reveals lead in the water.

“One of the easiest things that schools can do is to install filters on all the taps that are used for drinking water and cooking water,” said Early. “It's an easy, low-cost step that schools can take to start protecting our children right now.”

Elizabeth Friend grew up in North Carolina listening to public radio in the backseat of the family station wagon. She has been reporting and producing at WUNC since 2016, covering everything from Army history to armadillos. She's also the co-founder of the beloved summer event series Audio Under The Stars. In her spare time she enjoys exploring the outside world with her family, dabbling in esoteric crafts, and cheese.
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